For the last few years, I have had an opportunity to go to the annual meeting of the Farm Bureau. A group of us have also enjoyed being able to share the experience in real-time (thanks to Twitter) and with a bit of reflection on the AFBF meeting blog. This year, I wrote 1-2 blog posts a day with several of them featuring video interviews with farmers engaged in the meetings. The pace of doing that along with all the other activities seemed dizzying at times but what a rewarding experience it has been! I thought you would like to see some of the highlights (if you would like more info on any of the topics below, the title links to the detailed post).
Last Friday, I was lucky enough to get out on a tour that helped me learn a little about Hawaiian agriculture. A highlight was meeting Dean Okimoto a farmer on Oahu who mainly grows baby greens, herbs and specialty vegetables for restaurants in Oahu or to sell through farmers’ markets. His family’s 16 acres on the windward side of the island dates back to the 1950s. And he is the current president of the Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation. Dean took the time to tell me a bit about his farm and the exciting agricultural community in Hawaii that includes farms which are very small in size compared to many on the mainland but with the year-round productivity farmers here have the possibility of being viable on such small acreage. At the same time, Dean talks about the importance of the ag community, both looking across different groups on the islands and those on the mainland as farmers have many shared interests that transcend farm size, production practices, etc. (Video of Dean Okimoto in original post.)
Getting to make a couple of trips to our research station in Kunia, Oahu stands out for me among the week of meetings, events and dinners. I have to say, seeing farms that are distinctly different from others farms I’ve seen always gets my mind to wandering. Add that I’m seeing the farms with farmers who also find it unique and I could spend all day on these tours! The focus on water, land and labor is familiar and yet totally different! While our farm is focused on initial variety multiplication for corn and soybeans, I also had the chance to learn about some of the local crops grown on small farms. (Numerous photos in original post.)
The general sessions during the annual meeting are huge – thousands of farmers from all over the U.S. come to them to get the latest news and information about agriculture and the Farm Bureau. To get the feel of the opening session from a grassroots perspective, I had Washington rancher George Irwin give me his impressions as well as tell me about his farm. One of the first things on the agenda that grabbed his attention was Hawaii Governor Neil Abecrombie talking about his commitment to get agriculture in the classroom and to get students hands-on knowledge about food production. George said his wife works with the 4H programs in their area and having seen first-hand how much can come from exposure to agriculture, he thinks the program would be beneficial to schools everywhere. The fact that diversity doesn’t divide but unifies the people of Hawaii is something that can really be built from resonated for George. The speech by Bob Stallman grabbed George as well as the agricultural industry is a good place to be. But he also took time to address a few issues like dust that need to be addressed. As the Farm Bureau looks at all the things that need to be done and how best to meet the challenges ahead, there is a lot of promise. (Video of George Irwin in original post.)
Among the exhibitor seminars that grabbed time on the schedule of farmers attending the Farm Bureau’s annual meeting was a session Field to Market presented on their new Fieldprint Calculator. Field to Market is a collaboration of diverse organizations (including Monsanto) with interest in food, farm, conservation and the environment. Presenters showed a short overview video which does a great job of helping people new to the initiative understand the effort. Videos by the two primary presenters are part of the original post:
- Marty Matlock of the University of Arkansas talked about ways Field to Market is measuring sustainability, working on real metrics that farmers could use on their farm. Because there are so many different definitions of sustainability, making sure everyone understood the Field to Market guidepost — “meet needs of present while improving ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” In looking at data over twenty years — 1987, 1997, 2007 — there is a dramatic shift where farmers have made dramatic changes to improve environment! In fact, Matlock said soil loss trends have improved by 30-70% in U.S. corn, soybeans and cotton!
- Brian Marshall, a grain farmer in Dekalb County, Missouri, has been using the calculator to run some real world data for his farm as well as look at hypothethicals on what would change if he made changes in his production practices. Marshall pointed out that the calculator let’s farmers compare to county, state & national average for energy use, etc. giving him a chance to see both where he’s doing a good job and where there is room for improvement. He can also save info for year to year, info is confidential and using the system was as easy as Facebook or online banking.
The entire post can be viewed here.
The American Farm Bureau Federation’s Annual Meeting always closes the last general session with the awards to Young Farmers & Ranchers who have been competing for the Discussion Meet, Award of Excellence and Excellence in Agriculture. Yesterday I started the closing session by talking briefly to a great friend through social media, Michigan fruit farmer Ben LaCross, who has served as chairman of the national YF&R Committee for the past year. Ben does a great job summarizing the activities of the group from his perspective. I also recommend you read the a blog post or two on why young farmers and ranchers are here and the discussion meet to hear from two of the YFR participants. (Video of Ben is among the items on the original post.)
Well, I know that reading these posts isn’t like being there, but hopefully you have a feel for some of the things that really grabbed my attention. There were plenty more things to catch – the blog posts by others could help you get a more complete.